Michelle Shocked lived up to her controversial and irreverent reputation Tuesday night in a unwieldy performance in the Marquee at the Tralf.
Shocked can play the roles of performance artist, folk singer and record industry victim. She was a little bit of all three in a performance filled with convictions and dreams that turned into a confrontational and brutally honest display of artistry.
Within the first four songs, the Dallas-born Shocked began a theme of protest by conversing with the audience members.
Shocked broke down the wall that divides the audience and the performer "into gods and mere mortals." She became one of us. She transformed several hundred overheated people to names and voices.
Or so she claimed.
I was just there for the music.
Or so I thought.
Shocked demands more from her fans than just sitting and listening. They become part of the show. She launched into her first set determined to personally revive the idea of audience participation. She wasn't alone on stage. Shocked was accompanied by guitarist/singer Fiachna O'Braonaun, on hiatus from his band Hot House Flowers.
Shocked, at times, sounded ragged, but maybe that was all part of the plan. Incorporating her mistakes into her tunes, Shocked switched to her mandolin and extended two songs, "Over the Waterfall" and "Soldier's Joy," to let the audience into her mood.
Mood was everything on this night, and it could be refreshing as when "Drip Dry" sported a countrified Ween sound, with O'Braonaun adding a second voice to Shocked's grass-roots politico-country drawl.
Music wasn't the only attraction, there was also dancing. Shocked left the stage during the hypnotic chords of "Anchorage" to waltz with her fans. Buffer free.
Shocked is an excellent musician and songwriter, but her strength is best described as controversy. She's determined to push hot buttons with everyone present.
This kind of stage demeanor is not for everyone and audience response to Shocked's antics was mixed.
I saw a waitress who, as she waited for her customer to sign his Visa receipt, sat down enchanted at the table as she watched Shocked play.
I also saw 30 people leave during "Graffiti Limbo" and "Come a Long Way" after Shocked broke into a story of how she battled her record label.
Shocked had an opinion on just about everything in the entertainment business, even the layout of the Marquee. Shocked indicated the club adds to the alienation of the audience and the artist.
She wants only the strong fans to survive. She seemed perfectly willing to jettison the half-hearted and to challenge the devoted. It worked.
Everyone sitting in my section either left or started dancing, whether out of shame or enlightenment, I cannot say.
What I can say is that Shocked took a risk. And risk may be the essence of Shocked's performance.
These days, shocking an audience usually means little more than an action flick or, in contemporary music, the antics of the late, outrageous, punk performer G.G. Allin.
The ability to shock is something that is taken for granted and left at the club, in the theater or with the artist.
Not with Michelle Shocked. At her shows, the audience becomes part of the process of shocking because she shatters the standard rules of conduct between the performer and fans.
It's not an easy adjustment for the uninitiated. I have to admit that at one point during the concert I felt shamed. But somewhere after the shame wore off and before Shocked admitted that she and the crowd had learned a lesson in trust, I realized that Shocked knew exactly what she was doing.
Musician and songwriter who specializes in controversy.
Tuesday night at the Marquee at the Tralf.